Rio Ferdinand has discussed the best young players in the Premier League this season, naming his five best U21 stars in England’s top flight.
The former Manchester United defender conducted a Q&A on his Instagram and was asked his opinion on the best emerging stars in the division, firstly naming Liverpool‘s Trent Alexander-Arnold as his number one and describing the youngster as ‘the best right-back in the world right now.’
“I have to say the first under 21 player I’m going to put on my list is Trent Alexander-Arnold because he is the best right-back in the world right now,” the 41-year-old said.
“I have watched him in games and he dictates things – I just think he’s the modern-day player. He’s in a team where they have a lot of the ball, who are on the front foot and that suits his game perfectly.
“Liverpool need someone who is forward-thinking so for those people who say he can’t defend – it doesn’t matter. He is in the right team for him.
“He plays with a composure beyond his years. I’ve seen him live in massive games, even in Rome (for the 2018 Champions League semi-final) where he struggled a bit he still had moments where you think ‘wow this kid is very composed in the pressure situations’.”
8 – The most 'secondary assists' in Europe's top five divisions this season, where a player makes the pass to the player who then assists the goal:
8 | Julian Brandt
8 | Thiago Alcântara
8 | Sergio Busquets
8 | Jadon Sancho
8 | Trent Alexander-Arnold
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 18, 2020
Ferdinand also reserved praise for Arsenal teenager Gabriel Martinelli, the Brazilian having made a big impression since his arrival at the Emirates last summer.
The 18-year-old has scored ten goals in all competitions for the north London side, and Ferdinand has tipped the Gunners’ prospect to become a ‘major player in world football in years to come.’
“The second one I’m going for is Martinelli. I watched him against Bournemouth away, I watched him against Chelsea.
“He is a proper player, I think he’ll be a major player in world football in years to come. To be 18-years-old and do what he is doing.
📰 Gabriel Martinelli is aiming to the very top at Arsenal:
🗣️ "I want to win the Champions League." pic.twitter.com/XclnF1XEla
— The Arsenal Review (@thearsreview) March 23, 2020
“The goal against Chelsea alone, he’s got the composure to slot it. A great player, but his awareness and intelligence is mad.”
Manchester City‘s Phil Foden is another player the former England defender has been impressed by, the 19-year-old having been on the fringes at the Premier League champions for much of the past two seasons.
Ferdinand admits he is keen to see the midfielder play more regularly at the Etihad, but is confident Foden will be given his opportunity to shine for Pep Guardiola’s side in the seasons to come.
“Phil Foden is another, the way this kid glides, he’s like an artist. I’ve been crying out for him to get more games but Pep will probably think well I’ve got Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Bernardo Silva.
“But this kid is English and we want our young players to get exposure. I’m sure he’s been frustrated because I know I have. His time will come, Pep seems to be committed to playing him.
“Every time he plays he gives you a glimpse – that is what I love about him. I see now what people have been saying. He plays with his head up, the way he analyses things, his weight of pass, the way he shifts people often balance.
“It is poetry in motion at times.”
Alongside Alexander-Arnold is a wealth of fine options for England at right-back, including Manchester United youngster Aaron Wan-Bissaka and the experienced duo of Kieran Tripper and Kyle Walker.
However, Ferdinand believes Chelsea‘s Reece James is a player likely to play his way into contention in the coming years, the 20-year-old impressing after being handed his opportunity at Stamford Bridge this season.
“Another one is Reece James – I like this kid. With his crossing he puts teams under pressure, he wants to hurt the opposing team and make you face your own goal.
“He’s got so much growth in his game. He is versatile – he’s played centre-half for Wigan, he can play right-back, even in centre midfield.
“Plus he looks like he’s got a great temperament which is huge and physically he is like a middleweight boxer – he’s strong, solid, quick and aggressive.
“I think he’ll become a mainstay in that team.”
Ferdinand finished his five by deliberating over a pair of emerging talents, but opted for Manchester United forward Mason Greenwood over Wolves’ Pedro Neto following an impressive breakthrough season at Old Trafford, the 18-year-old scoring 12 goals across all competitions.
“For number five I was torn – Neto at Wolves has scored a good amount of goals. I think to myself ‘this kid’s got something’ whenever I see something.
“But I think the badge has does it and Mason Greenwood has to be in this five. What this kid is doing with his right and left foot.
“When he’s stood over a free-kick in his own mind I bet his stood there like ‘does he want this on my right or left foot?”